The majority of America now gets its news from online sources. This has opened the country up to a whole new variety of sources including blogs, vlogs, youtube and other alternative media sources. The term “Freedom of the Press” has certainly expanded to include multiple new-age venues of modern press. However, in a developing story, Senator Feinstein (D-CA) is seeking an amendment to restrict who gets protection under new media shield laws.
First, consider the problem with a media shield law. On the surface, it may seem great. Here, you will find one of government’s dirtiest tricks. Journalists and media already have a shield law. It’s called the first amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
DC will now try and pass a law that will put parameters on media, journalism, journalists, etc. We are told that this will strengthen protection for journalists. In reality, it could open the door for government persecution due to purposefully placed ambiguous language. This is certainly by design, as it is repeated in almost every law passed by Congress and signed by the President.
S. 987 (Free Flow of Information Act) defines what a media provider is and who a journalist is, and is not. However, Senator Feinstein is not satisfied with the language and wants it further restricted. According to a report, Feinstein says, “I’m concerned this would provide special privilege to those who are not reporters at all.” She is referring to bloggers and the likes of Edward Snowden, NSA whistle-blower. Feinstein went on to suggest that the term journalist only apply to those who report for mainstream media sources, and do so as a primary source of income. H. 1962, the House version of the bill, already includes such stipulation:
The term ‘‘covered person’’ means a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.
This meaning, if you aren’t being paid- then you don’t get protection under the new law.
Feinstein’s amendment, which is scheduled to be introduced will seek to restrict who is protected under the law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports
that the amendment will require journalists to meet one of the following criteria:
- working as a “salaried employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information;”
- either (a) meeting the prior definition “for any continuous three-month period within the two years prior to the relevant date” or (b) having “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications by an entity . . . within two years prior to the relevant date;” or
- working as a student journalist “participating in a journalistic publication at an institution of higher education.” (emphases added)
Amendment to S. 987, 113th Cong. § 5(A)(i), § 5(B)(iii) (2013)
Her amendment continues to muddy the waters by retaining original language that requires:
- that individuals “engage in . . . the regular gathering, preparation, collection, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing on” matters of public interest; or
- that individuals “regularly conducted interviews, reviewed documents, captured images of events, or directly observed events.” (emphases added)
Amendment to S. 987, 113th Cong. § 5(A)(ii), § 5(B)(i) (2013)
These criteria are troublesome. What about those not salaried? How do you define a “substantial contributor”, “entity”, or “significant”? What happens to these students once they have graduated? How do you define one who is “regularly” engaged in journalism? It is certainly ambiguous at best.
This attempt to restrict protection to bloggers and leakers is nothing new. In 2009, Senator Schumer introduced an amendment
to the Free Flow of Information Act that purposefully excluded bloggers and non-salaried writers from protection.
In the future, keep an open eye for federal legislation, which claims any association with your innate rights such as the “Free Flow of Information Act”. Rights such as those to keep and bear arms, or the freedom of speech. When our rights are left to the hands of vague legislative language, no good can be found as result. For liberty and freedom are words of absolute, and ambiguity must find no refuge here.
After researching the law and proposed amendments, I cannot even be certain if my colleagues and myself would protected here at BenSwann.com due to the ambiguity. This ambiguity and fear certainly leads to restrictions on the press.
Let us know what you think in the comments below.